I met a few friends for coffee before the holidays. We usually meet this time of year to catch up and enjoy the cheer of the season. This year, many of my friends were unhappy and bothered by many things that had happened during the past year. One of my friends said, “I feel so hopeless because of the multiple terrorist attacks, California wildfires, losing net neutrality, and the tax bill has finally put me over the edge.” As I used to practice tax law, I’ve been a bit obsessed with the new tax bill, so I immediately jumped into the conversation. I probably got too technical with some of the details, but it was clear to everyone at the table that I was unhappy about the bill. After I was done speaking, my friend turned to me and said, “You sound just like me. You obviously also feel hopeless.” I responded that I actually feel more hopeful than ever, which confused her and our other friends. I explained I feel hopeful because the FUTURE IS UNCERTAIN and that means MAYBE what is happening can lead to something good, MAYBE things can get better or MAYBE we can find a way to accept what is happening and still be okay. Even during difficult times, MAYBE there is something special to experience in the moment. I told them that I have a Maybe mindset and there is no reason to abandon hope.
I know many people have different opinions about the idea of hope. Some people think hope should not be part of our daily experience and others believe that hope is the root of our suffering. For instance, in the Taoist philosophy, things are neither good nor bad and everything changes, so hope has no role. In the Buddhist religion, many believe hope is an attachment that leads to suffering because we cling to an outcome in the future that may or may not occur. I have also heard people say hope “blinds us” to reality and creates inaction and complacency to face the world’s problems because we hope tomorrow will be better.
I believe most of us would find it impossible to get out of bed in the morning without hope. Every business, every investment, every first date, and every other situation we embark on has hope packed into it. It is not hope that causes us emotional pain. Instead, it is our inability to be flexible and fluid in the face of change and uncertainty. It is our addiction to certainty and not our addiction to hope that paralyzes us to make the changes in our own lives and in the world. This is why I spend so much time writing about the Maybe mindset. Maybe encourages us to look at every situation we are facing and recognize that things change. Instead of seeing change as bad we can view uncertainty as offering endless possibilities, many of which we can’t even imagine today. So, with a Maybe mindset we can stay hopeful and at the same time recognize life might not go as planned, and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean we won’t achieve our goals or the world can’t get better. It just helps us find a different path with new possibilities.
Sometimes when I write about the Maybe mindset and the idea of hope, a few people email me describing very difficult situations they face and suggest hope is a pipe dream leading people down a path of disappointment and suffering. With this in mind, I have met with several notable humanitarians and discussed the idea of hope – Sasha Chanoff from RefugePoint, who works with international refugees, Katie Ford from Freedom For All, who works to eradicate Human Trafficking, Maggie Doyne from BlinkNow.org, who works with orphaned Nepalese Children, and Rachel Lloyd from GEMS, who empowers girls and young women who have experienced sexual exploitation to exit the commercial sex industry. These humanitarians have witnessed tremendous suffering in the United States and in the developing countries in which they work, where often every sign they see points to more death, abuse and poverty. Yet, they all have one thing in common – they all have hope in the face of what sometimes seems impossible. Does this hope ever lead them to fail? Of course, they tell me there are times their hopes do not come to fruition, times of frustration and even suffering. Overwhelmingly though, they all say hope has led them to have a huge positive impact on individuals and communities that have been abandoned by society. It is hope that gives them the inspiration to continue and never give up. It is their hope that saves lives every day and is a lifeline to continue their work to make the world a better place.
Maybe in a philosophical debate, one could tell us to abandon hope, but when you go where people are really suffering, you will find their suffering is not a result of their hope, but of the very real challenges that they face every day. It often takes more courage to have hope than not because you’re being asked to look into the unknown and still believe all things are possible. Sometimes it is only hope that feeds our spirits and launches us to find the strength and power to carry on.
If we are hopeful, can bad things still happen in life? Yes, but we must remember good things happen too and sitting around feeling hopeless doesn’t help anybody. Feeling hopeful can help you develop a more open mind, which can help you access more possibilities, making it more likely you will find a resolution to your problems or a new way to live with whatever you face in the new year. I am not saying we should live in illusion or not accept what is happening today, but the FUTURE IS UNCERTAIN which creates a wide open playing field for so many possibilities.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Everything that is done in the world is done by hope.” So, let’s try to be more hopeful in 2018 because hope is the beginning of all that’s possible to make the world a better place for everyone.
Wishing all of you a Happy and Healthy New Year!!!!
If you would like to learn more about the Maybe mindset and learn an exercise to help you embrace HOPE for the new year, you can listen to 10 minute my podcast, Finding Hope in the New Year.
For weekly information on how to reduce stress and worry check out my podcast, 10 Minutes To Less Suffering, follow me on Twitter @giftofmaybe or Instagram, follow my Blog or check out my book The Gift of Maybe.
Originally Published in Psychology Today